In life, anything that has a beginning has an end, no one stays at a job forever, we are all passing through a phase in the life of our institutions and nation, our journey will come to an end one day but the journey of Akwa lbom is forever. So, there comes a time when it is over and bid goodbye to all who have made a challenging job an illuminating experience.
Truly, It is a great good fortune, that time, chance and the providence of God made it possible for me to spend the last five years as the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the service of the fatherland. I have had the rare privilege of appointment by two Presidents of different political parties. I want to sincerely thank Mr. President, Mohammadu Buhari (GCFR) for the opportunity to serve and for being part of the collective efforts to give meaning and purpose to the ballot as the best means of the expression of the will of the people in a democracy.
My immeasurable thanks goes to the Chairman of the Commission, Professor Mahmood Yabuku, a scholar of remarkable intellectual prowess, for his leadership and protection at my greatest moment of danger and vulnerability for standing tall in defense of democracy and the rule of law before the 2019 general elections and up till this moment. To all staff of INEC in Akwa lbom State, Administrative Secretary, Heads of Departments, Electoral Officers, Assistant Electoral Officers, Drivers, Security and Cleaners, some of whom have retired, l would have said from the bottom of my heart
l thank you but with you all, my heart has no bottom, the gratitude from my heart is immeasurable. As custodians and implementers of the vision and mission of the Commission, l provided leadership but it is you people that delivered the electoral outcome of 2019 general elections that was of a remarkable departure and difference from previous elections in this State. Thank you all for keeping to the core values of integrity and upholding the highest principles of ethical standards that changed the narrative of elections in Akwa lbom State in 2019.
How time flies and what an incredible journey, looking back at our stewardship in the past five years in terms of the challenges we overcame, lessons learnt and the opportunities they present for the 2023 elections and future Elections in this State, one has every reason to thank The Almighty.
On my arrival on the 5th of September 2017 one of my earliest tasks after the usual briefings with staff of the Commission in the State, was a meeting of all Chairmen and Secretaries of political parties, met with traditional rulers, faith based organizations and shared the vision and mission statement of the Commission. We made a firm commitment to all that the lndependent National Electoral Commission under my watch will not be a tool for the manipulation of electoral victory, but an election management body committed to the conduct credible election by enforcing the provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act, Regulations and Guidelines of INEC fully, fairly and impartially in Akwa lbom State. We made a firm promise that ballot papers and result sheets shall be delivered in all the 2,980 polling units (now 4,354) of the thirty (31) LGAs of Akwa lbom State.
All the stakeholders narrated their bitter experiences and provided useful and actionable information about how ballot papers and result sheets were never delivered to polling units in the past but private homes of a few influential politicians , where they are thumbprinted and election results written and individuals declared winners. Based on these background brief, we immediately set out for the preparation of the State for the 2019 election by taking the following bold actions with key accomplishments:
Firstly, we set up a Committee for the identification of the location/relocation of all polling units in private homes. In all, a total of 23 such Polling Units were discovered and relocated from the homes of associates of some influential politicians after a stakeholders meeting that was held in this lbom Hall on the 6th of August 2018 before the 2019 elections.
Secondly, during my tour of the LGAs to assess the state of the offices, and take stock of materials, we found that of all the 31 LGAs, only in Essien Udim and Obot Akara, that all PVCs of the two LGAs were collected 100% without credible records of those who collected them. That raised a red flag about these two LGAs that turned out to be the most difficult LGAs during the 2019 election where terrible things occurred.
We alerted security authorities and two weeks later we got pictures of INEC Card Readers and thousands of PVCs stacked in the home of an influential and untouchable politician.
Thirdly, during the recruitment of election ad hoc staff process, that was in the past taken over by influential politicians with connivance of staff, an act that we ensured became an anathema; there was massive resistance by previous beneficiaries to sabotage the entire electoral process because they could not longer infiltrate or take control of the process. As part of their resistance, natives were instigated to reject corp members from carrying out electoral duties in their communities.
At Obot Akara, one of the finest and brilliant Electoral Officers who refused to accept the list of ad hoc staff from a politician was beaten up and almost killed. The matter was reported to security authorities and till date nothing has been done, if he had been killed he would have died in vain. Painfully, he has resigned and left the service of the Commission.
Also at Obot Akara, on the eve of the presidential and National Assembly elections, all the buses hired (13) by the Commission that were parked at the LGA office to convey election personnel and materials were all set ablaze by the agents of an influential politician so that election will not be conducted.
Similarly, at the lbesukpo Asutan (LGA) office of the Commission, 42 brand new Generating sets and over three hundred (300) Card Readers were set on fire to prevent election from holding, Mkpat Enin and Eastern Obolo offices were also touched.
The distraction was massive and total with calls for my redeployment from the State to pave way for a return to the old ways of arbitrary writing of election results.
These influential politician(s) have caused to be redeployed from this State over seven Commissioners of Police and Heads of other security agencies that were unwilling to be part of the process of subverting the 2019 elections. This practice should not be allowed to happen as we approach the 2023 elections. Commissioners of Police and other heads of security agencies should not be posted out of States six months to the conduct of general election so that they can know the personnel in their command and have sufficient knowledge and understanding of their various Commands.
It may interest you to know that it was the intelligence reports we received and acted upon within 48 hours to the Governorship and State House of Assembly election that rendered useless pre-written election results of 26 LGAs out of 31 LGAs that were flown into Uyo. I went to the Central Bank and spent hours upon hours to endorse all the result sheets of the entire State. And that was what saved the 2019 election from producing a totally different outcome from the choices that the people eventually made at the polling units.
A number of ad hoc staff mainly Corps members were abducted on their way to RAC centers on the eve of the election in Essien Udim LGA where unparalleled thuggery and violence was unleashed on poll officials. Television Continental (TVC) crew as well as foreign observers were assaulted and beaten up.
Despite all the odds stacked against the Commission, and the determined efforts to rig the 2019 election, we deployed our EMSC tracking tools to deliver ballot papers and result sheets and other electoral materials to all polling units effectively and efficiently.
Election Tribunal Issues: Despite all the deliberate misinformation and the use of social media efforts to discredit the outcome of the election and the efforts to manipulate the truth, except for Mbo State constituency where there was a questionable outcome, all the cases filed at the tribunal against the outcome of the elections were unsuccessful up to the Supreme Court, this validation despite layers of legal scrutiny was only possible because the Commission in the State made strenuous efforts to uphold the integrity of the 2019 elections in the State.
Electoral Offences: We ensured that all those whose conduct undermined the trust and confidence in the integrity of the electoral process were brought to book in accordance with the law. Consequently, three staff of INEC were made to face a disciplinary Committee, found culpable and subsequently dismissed while two professors, Peter Ogban and Ignatius Uduk who were appointed in the 2019 elections as Returning Officers for the Akwa lbom North West Senatorial District and Essien Udim State Constituency, both of whom made false declaration of Results and Returns, were arraigned in Court, one has been convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment while professor Uduk and his lawyer in order to avoid opening a defense after INEC has closed its case, have decided to forge medical report from LASUTH in Lagos State that has been investigated by the Lagos Police Commands to be a fake medical report.
Expansion of Voters access and creation of addition 1,373 polling units: After 25 years the Commission was able to create additional 1,373 polling units to service new settlements in Akwa State and this has brought the total number of polling units to 4,353. I am glad to inform you all that none of the polling units has zero registrants at the close of voters’ registration on the 31st of July.
May l at this juncture remind you all that the whole essence and embrace of democracy is essentially because it brings about participation, probity and accountability to the process of human development, that is why elections must reflect the will of the people. Respect for the will of the people is the beginning of responsible leadership because it represents the liberal dimension of liberal democracy.
Electoral historians told us that the earliest practices of democracy was in the form of direct democracy in the ancient Greeks City State of Anthens. But in advancing the purpose for which the Greeks devised and polished that practice, Plato, one of the greatest scholars of public administration advocated that all men who must govern public affairs must set aside their personal, family and clan interest for the collective public interest, and matters of public good must not be left to the judgment of individual morality, otherwise we will all be at the continuous struggle of the survival of the fittest, the craftiest, such as those who want to reopen concluded party primaries they never took part in because they have the most resources or authority to have their way over others.
As INEC innovates to improve the process of acquiring power through peaceful and credible elections, there are people who still crave for an unequal edge and asymmetrical power over others in our society. That is why names of those who won valid party primaries elections are substituted for those who did not participate in primaries monitored by the election management body. The more we try to reconcile and balance public interest, the more we find tendencies to upset such balances, Where society is overwhelmed by individuals who consider themselves above the law, collective security and wellbeing will give way to collective insecurity and declining wellbeing. Greed and abuse of power will bring nothing but greatest suffering and loss to mankind.
As we prepare for the 2023 elections, the people of Akwa lbom and Nigerians must stand up and not be overwhelmed by the forces that seek to decay democracy in our country.
The promise of integrity driven electoral process to restore and rekindle the confidence of the Nigerian people in the ballot through various innovations, processes and procedures that are sustainable and replicable to guarantee periodic credible elections in our country are working and we must continue on that trajectory
The introduction of the Biomodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) the dual process of result collation (IREV) through the upload of election results directly from the polling units and domiciled in the cloud with evidence of hard copy have brought tremendous energy of hope, credibility, integrity unequalled in the history of election collation process in our country. This has put an end to the criminal conduct of ware-housing, buying and selling of PVCs, no more incident form, thumb printing of ballots and stuffing, alteration and manipulation of results during collation at Wards, LGAs and at State collation centers are now things of the past
Looking back at the last five years as l take a bow today from INEC and say goodbye , we can say with every sense of modesty that the lndependent National Electoral Commission under Professor Mahmood Yakubu has worked so hard to expand the radius and frontiers of credible elections for the sustenance of our democracy.
Democracy or the institution of representative democracy will have no hopeful future if not anchored on the rule of law and its strict adherence by all stakeholders. Without the rule of law, regulations and guidelines, elections will be nothing but a crude contest in the deployment of force. Democracy will not survive in the soil of absolutism, where political actors reject the norms and values on which democracy is practiced, democracy will die. Let us keep this democracy ever young to meet the aspiration of the Nigerian people.
We must all re-commit ourselves to a credible process of leadership recruitment for our country in 2023, that is what we have striven to do by insisting at all times that the right thing must be done even at a great personal risk to our lives and loved ones. We have never compromised or surrendered pristine values of honesty and integrity but rather we have through the grace of Almighty God shown courage of conviction to be true to them.
All that every citizen needs to contribute to the progress of Nigeria is to be given a chance; we have been given a chance and opportunity in the past ten years by two presidents. We devoted our time and served with all our hearts to rebuild our electoral process since 2010 to what it is today as exemplified by the recent elections across the country that have been applauded by Nigerians
Even though improvements of our electoral process are still work in progress, in retrospect, we can proudly say that we left a good situation and a place of service better than we met it.
Igini, a lawyer, is the outgoing Resident Electoral Commissioner of Akwa Ibom State.